Day 91: Moussaka & Greek Salad
inspired by Kolossi Grill
Saturday was a first. A first trip into Central London in over three months. 97 days in fact (but who’s counting…)
I was going to start slowly. Travelling in on a weekend, rather than a weekday, to take away any anxiety over rush hour. Aidan, who has been going into work a couple of times a week, assured me it would be OK.
And it was. Totally OK. In fact there were four people in our train carriage. Aidan and I, plus two other passengers. With the windows open and everyone wearing face masks this was more socially distanced than a supermarket shop.
It’s amazing how quickly you adapt to a routine. And then how quickly it becomes difficult to get out of it. I’ve been in my South East London bubble, perfectly happy, and if I’m honest I was nervous about leaving it. But even I had to admit it was time to get out.
But I needn’t have been anxious. Seeing London again, feeling part of a bigger city rather than just a single suburb, was exactly what I needed.
We walked through the City up to Clerkenwell. Walking past Cannon Street, Moorgate and Barbican, you would hardly know anything was different. The City is this quiet on the weekends anyway, when all the offices are closed. Only the lack of tourists crowding round St Pauls Cathedral was a giveaway that this was not business as usual.
Likewise so many pubs and restaurants in that area don’t open on weekends. So it was hard to tell how many businesses have closed for months, and how many were simply not trading that day.
As we moved past Barbican up towards Clerkenwell you started to see the difference. Restaurants and pubs that we knew should be open, were not. Some were boarded up. Others had their furniture in piles inside. Some looked like nothing had changed, that the staff has left it ready for that next lunch service, whenever that might be.
But walking down Exmouth Market gave me hope. One of my favourite streets in London, and one that is home to many restaurants I’ve written about on this blog. Moro, Berber & Q, Santore. Quality Chop House and The Eagle just around the corner.
They weren’t all open. Some were refurbishing. Some still lay quiet and empty. But so many places were either offering takeaway food and drink, or at least had hand written signs taped to their doors with instructions for delivery drivers. A sign, as much as they might look dormant, that a team of chefs were still in the kitchen. They were still cooking.
People wandered up and down the street. Buying fruit and veg from little mini grocers, set up in restaurant windows. Drinking beer and aperol spritz out of plastic cups, served outside bars. Queuing politely for a one in one out cafe offering coffee and baked goods.
This is the start of the new normal.
I went to the Quality Chop House deli – an example of a restaurant that already had an adjoining shop, rather than transforming itself into one. I found some orange blossom honey and bought some meat from their butchers.
Over the road to the Greek deli. I’m buying their amazing homemade taramasalata and some Greek beer to go with our dinner later.
Laden down with my foodie treasures I headed back to Aidan’s pub on Goswell Road.
Seeing the pub transformed for takeaway was a shock. The furniture all piled at the back of the pub. Tape markings on the floor. Notices on the doors to say which way in and out. Beer served in two pint jars so that customers could take it away to drink at home.
Unlike on Exmouth Market, which already has an outdoor cafe culture, encouraging punters to drink on the street is not quite as welcome on Goswell Road (not yet anyway) so no plastic pint glasses here.
No TVs on. No music. No access to toilets. Nothing in fact, to encourage customers to linger, either inside or outside the premise.
We didn’t lock up and head home until early evening.
But I wasn’t panicking about dinner. Because the day before I had made moussaka.
It seems fitting to dedicate this dinner to another local Clerkenwell restaurant. Kolossi Grill, just off Exmouth Market, is a Greek Cypriot restaurant, which as I have found out is a bit of an institution.
The Kolossi Grill Restaurant began life in 1966. At the time it was the only restaurant on Rosebery Avenue and attracted the custom of journalists from nearby Fleet Street. Four decades later the surrounding area has flourished and is bustling with shops and cuisines from around the worldKolossi Grill Website
1966! Long before any of the other Clerkenwell trendsetters arrived. Before Moro. Way before the first gastro pub was set up at The Eagle.
Once we get home I pop our Fix beers in the fridge to chill and we tuck into taramasalata and homemade bread whilst I put the moussaka in the oven to bake.
I followed this recipe from My Greek Dish. I added a layer of potatoes in with the aubergines but otherwise it was pretty much exactly as the recipe states.
It’s a simple dish to cook, but it does take a bit of time. Salting the aubergines and potatoes. Then frying in oil. Making the meat sauce (I used a mix of beef and lamb) and the white sauce to top it with (basically a béchamel but with added egg and nutmeg). Finally layering it all up before putting it in the oven.
Or in my case putting it in the fridge, ready for the oven the next day.
But if you enjoy spending an hour or two pottering around the kitchen, dreaming of Greek holidays and sunshine, then you should make moussaka.
While you’re at it you should make a Greek salad too.
I love this fresh crunchy salad as it’s perfect to offset the richness of the moussaka. I’m not following a recipe for this bit. I simply chop up tomatoes, cucumber, green pepper and red onion and put in a bowl with salt and olive oil. Just before serving I add some oregano (I’ve got fresh but I add a little dried too), a few olives and crumble over some feta.
If we were eating this in Greece the feta would be served as one block on top of the rest of the salad. So it might not be the traditional way to serve it, but I like the feta mixed in, allowing it to coat the vegetables with it’s sharp, salty tang.
The toughest bit about dinner is that you need to leave the moussaka for a while after it comes out of the oven. Greek food like this is often served warm, rather than piping hot. Also allowing it to rest and firm up a bit makes it much easier to cut into portions. But it’s hard to resist when you are hungry, and need some more food to soak up the beer you’ve drunk (I’ve opened a couple of Fix by now).
I don’t manage to get a perfect square of moussaka out of the dish like you would get at Kolossi. Or anywhere we’ve eaten it in Greece over the years.
But served up with a Greek salad and some more cold Greek beer, I couldn’t care less. I feel like I’m on holiday.
Today has felt like a holiday actually. A break from the lockdown norm.
Seeing London, quieter, different, but still going, has lifted my spirits. I feel happy and joyous and hopeful.
Or maybe that’s just the beer talking.